Friday, 5 August 2011

Nuclear Disaster Responses

The National Disaster Management Authority prepared Guidelines on Nuclear Emergencies in 2009. These were subsequently reviewed post the Fukushima incident. Summarised below:

Five types of Nuclear disasters were envisaged and the corresponding response measures given:
1.    Accident in the nuclear facility leading to large-scale release of radioactivity into the atmosphere-
a.    ‘Defence-in-Depth approach’ with five levels, where should one level fail, subsequent levels activate automatically. This ensures 3 safety functions: controlling the power, cooling the fuel, and confining the radioactive material from reaching the environment.
b.    Detailed plant specific emergency plans have been drawn up for possible accidents within the facility. Radiological Safety Officer at all facilities mandatory,
c.    For off-site emergencies, the concerned District Collector is to draw up disaster management plan, in consultation with the plant authorities.
d.    Also 18 Emergency Response Centres have been set up by BARC to cope with emergencies in public domain.
e.    WRT to vulnerability of nuclear power facilities to terrorist attacks, the report notes that facilities have elaborate physical security and the structural design of the facility will restrain any radioactivity from releasing into the atmosphere.

2.    ‘Criticality’ accident where uncontrolled nuclear reactions take place leading to bursts of neutrons and gamma radiations
a.    Prevented by proper design of facility and strict adherence to safety norms during operation.

3.    Accident during transportation of radioactive material
a.    possibility low due to design features of containers and special safety and security measures (speed of transport vehicle etc) which accompany transportation.

4.    Release of radioactive material into the environment by terrorists using a Radiological Dispersal Device (herein a conventional explosive device is complimented by radioactive material, which on explosion would release radioactivity in the atmosphere)
a.    Best prevention through implementation of safety requirements radioactive sources; and prevention of illicit smuggling of radioactive materials.

5.    Nuclear-weapon attack which would lead to large-scale casualities and destruction of property.
a.    a ‘standard operating procedure’ to deal with nuclear-weapon attack has been prepared but is classified knowledge.

To deal with these emergencies, BARC is training personnel from National Disaster Response Force (4 battalions at present-2011) and Central Industrial Security Force.

An institutional framework has been set up to implement the Guidelines. It includes:
1.    National Disaster Management Authority under chairmanship of PM – apex body responsible for three phases of disaster management continuum, (i) pre-disaster (prevention, mitigation, preparedness); (ii) during disaster (rescue and relief); (iii) post-disaster (rehabilitation and reconstruction),
2.    State Disaster Management Authority under chairmanship of state chief ministers- detailed micro-level action plans to be prepared, in coordination with district plans.
3.    District Disaster Management Authority under chairmanship of District Collectors
4.    Local Authorities

Gaps in nuclear emergency management system
-       Public understanding about nuclear/radiological disasters is very low mainly because of lack of credible information. Thus perceptions exist that small accidents can become Hiroshima/Chernobyl scale incidents. This needs to be addressed through public information campaign, to allow people better understanding and response.
-       If evacuation has to be undertaken near a nuclear facility then the following issues have to be addressed at the district level:
o   good roads and transport facilities need to be created and available
o   Shelter facilities
o   Food and water may also get contaminated, thus adequate sources and supplies of food and water need to be identified before-hand and included in the
o   Local police to be trained as first responders, till the National Disaster Response Force arrives.
-       More Emergency Response Centres have to be set up for a large country like India.
-       To handle nuclear emergency in public domain, the number of monitoring instruments and protective gear need to be augmented.
-       Reliable communication set-up which will connect district-state-centre in all disaster situations, especially nuclear disasters.
-       Radiation dose levels and the corresponding interventions (medical, food and water consumption etc) need to be established clearly
-       When the disaster is beyond the sole management of civil administration, then armed forces may be called in.  Thus civil-military coordination needs to be comprehensively developed.
-       Detailed programmes to handle nuclear emergencies in cities of various sizes will be developed – very important for metros, which face the possible threat of being targeted by a nuclear weapon.

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, India has reviewed its nuclear disaster preparedness and a few more measures were advanced 2:
-       Installation of dosi-metres (hi-tech radiation measuring gadgets) in 35 major cities, including all metros
-       Creation of 6 more National Disaster Reponse Force battalions specially dealing with radiological emergencies.
-       Procure ‘Hazmat’ vehicles with radiation data analysis capabilities.
-       Evolve response to accidents like unsuspecting exposure to radioactive substances, as happened in the Delhi scrapyard incident where one person died of exposure.  
-       NDMA to conduct mock drills at all nuclear facilities

Summarised from:
1.    ‘National Disaster Management Guidelines—Management of Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies’ 2009. A publication of the National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India.

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